To those of us who do not eat meat, it is hard to believe anyone would think the fat, cholesterol, calories, hormones, antibiotics and zero fiber in animal products are healthful. The best the meat industry can say is that meat won't hurt you if you eat it moderately--the same that can be said for cigarettes. (The meat industry also calls meat "dense" aka high calorie.) But this week the World Health Organization announced that meat, especially processed meat, causes cancer
Even if meat were "good for you," the environmental destruction, inefficiency (wasting edible grain and land on livestock feed) and abuses to workers and animals cancel out its benefits. Meat eaters who are against immigration would be shocked to learn their Big Mac would cost at least $10 without immigrant labor. Who do you think works in the slaughterhouses? When Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa in 2008, the operation had to shut down--there were no legal workers. Food giant Tyson was charged with smuggling in workers and providing them phony social security cards to keep its meat cheap--and bribing Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. Nice.
The links between ham, processed meats like hot dogs and cancer are not a new revelation. Processed meats taste salty and stay on the shelves indefinitely because of the preservatives nitrite and nitrate which become carcinogenic "nitrosamines" in the human body. After a 2008 report from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund showed that eating just one hot dog a day increased the risk of developing colorectal cancer by as much as 21 percent, there were calls to ban processed meat products, especially in schools. Nitrosamines have been linked in scientific articles to lung cancer, kidney cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and diabetes mellitus.
And there's more. The delectable taste and aroma from barbecued meat is also linked to cancer. Dripping fat creates carcinogens called "heterocyclic amines" and "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons" which public health agencies say to avoid.
While some of the growing number of vegans are motivated by health, many are motivated by ethics. The "kill your own meat" movement tries to help people escape hypocrisy but it does not always work. A New York Times article about do-it-yourself slaughter recounts University of Illinois student Jake Lahne, who tried his hand, observing that, "Animals do not want to die. They can feel pain and fear, and, just like us, will struggle to breathe for even one single more second. If you're about to run 250 volts through a pig, do not look it in the eyes. It is not going to absolve you."
The New York Times writer Ariel Kaminer was similarly not absolved when she slaughtered a turkey at the Islamic slaughterhouse in Ozone Park, Queens. The female bird appeared to die but "a few moments, she roused again for a quick bout of flapping."
If a product that harmed animals, the environment and workers somehow benefited human health it might be tolerated. But, as the World Health Organization points out this week meat, especially processed meat, actually causes cancer.
Do you live near Ithaca? Hear me speak on the press' changing coverage of veganism this Thursday at Cornell University at 5 PM in Rockefeller Hall!